Here Sarah* tells the story of how she has experienced bullying from both sides of the coin – as the mum of Joseph*, 12, who, until he was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), was involved in bullying while at primary school, and as the mum of Ellie*, nine, who has been bullied at school.
Until Joseph was diagnosed with ADHD, Sarah felt that the school was not listening to her or supporting her son. She felt very lonely and helpless. This is what she says:
“Before Joseph was on medication, if a child wound him up then he would retaliate physically. There was one incident which I only learnt about later from another parent where Joseph was chasing another pupil around with a pair of scissors. I also only then found out that Joseph had clashed with this same boy all the way through school. I wish the school had told me about this. As soon as I was aware of what was going on in school I sat down with Joseph and told him that if anyone wound him up then he should not get involved but should go and tell a teacher. He did this, but this then made him a target as children knew that if they taunted him he could not retaliate.”
But then things changed when Joseph got diagnosed with ADHD, after she shared her concerns with the school nurse, who arranged for Joseph to be assessed.
“The nurse was brilliant and arranged for Joseph to be assessed. He was diagnosed with ADHD, which although I expected as such still came as a blow to me. He was given medication and this has made such a difference. His teacher in his final year at primary school was brilliant and they bonded really well and his grades went up.”
Now, Joseph is at secondary school and is enjoying life and school much more. With some support from the school and his parents, things have changed for the better. They have found ways of coping with difficult situations.
“At school, if he feels he is getting worked up he shows his teacher a special card and they let him go off to a bungalow in the grounds where trained staff talk to him and help him calm down.”
“I still have to handle things carefully. If he comes to me with a problem he needs to physically see me talking to someone about it before he believes that I have listened to him and taken his concerns seriously. If I can’t do this then I will ask the person I have spoken to then speak to Joseph and say that I have spoken to them and tell him what they are going to do. If I didn’t do this he would feel that this was an injustice.”
“My daughter Ellie has suffered verbal bullying at school. This experience was awful because she loves school. It made her become very withdrawn. She finds it hard to talk about these things. She has been through so much after having been in the house with Joseph for seven and a half years before his ADHD was diagnosed.”
Talking through how Ellie feels with her mum, and having other people she can trust to talk to at home and at school is helping Ellie feel better about herself. They will then relay the information to Sarah.
“I have done activities with Ellie where we have talked about emotions and coloured in pictures of smiley faces depending on what she thinks they are feeling and this has helped her to open up a bit and talk about how she is feeling. The people she tends to open up to are Joseph and my mum. My mum and Joseph have been brilliant, letting me know in confidence what Ellie has told them. I will then talk to Joseph or my mum about what Ellie should do and they will relay this back to her and Joseph has even told her to go and speak to a nice teacher at the school. Of course, if it was really serious then I would speak directly to her, but thankfully things have settled down and the teachers keep an eye out for her.
I came into contact with Parentline Plus when they came to the transition evening when Joseph was going from primary to secondary school. I got on really well with one of their staff and I ended up going on a few courses, which have been very helpful. I know a few parents now who are struggling a bit and I have urged them to contact Parentline Plus – it’s the best thing I ever did.
It’s my dream to get some sort of support group going at school, especially at primary school, where I don’t think they have the funding to give the necessary support to children with behavioural issues and their families. It would be so nice to go and meet parents in similar experiences and just cry or get it off your chest – anything as a release from all the pressures you come under.”
* Names have been changed to protect this family’s identity.